Academy Poised to Enact New Rules Limiting Oscar Parties (Exclusive)

"There will be a tightening of the rules, no question," an Academy insider tells THR after a season of "out-of-control" campaigning.
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In response to an Oscar season featuring a significant uptick in campaign parties and schmooze-fests, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is preparing to impose new restrictions on lavish festivities.

A proposal for revised regulations, which sources tell The Hollywood Reporter is currently being drafted by an AMPAS committee, still must be approved by the Academy's board of governors, which next meets Aug. 2. But the plan will almost certainly include new restrictions on the number and kind of events that can be thrown, and insiders expect new regulations to be adopted.

"There will be a tightening of the rules, no question," an Academy insider tells THR.

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The annual film awards season ritual has long included a gravy train of campaign parties, receptions and "celebrations" designed to court awards voters. But as THR has reported, many industry observers raised eyebrows this past season over the increasingly blatant Oscar campaigning that masqueraded as great parties. "Out of control" is how one awards consultant puts it.

In January, Sony Pictures threw a spare-no-expenses bash at Spago, ostensibly to celebrate the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Social Network but also to court voters during a neck-and-neck race for best picture with The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech. Most DVD launch parties don't feature guests like Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Scott Rudin, Michael DeLuca, David Fincher, and Aaron Sorkin.

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There were plenty of King's Speech parties, too, like the one Arianna Huffington threw in February with Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hooper, Oliver Stone, Maria Bello and Jane Lynch. "If you're an Oscar voter, you can pretty much go to a party or reception or some kind of event every night from December until the voting ends," one insider says.

A popular trend this past season was the "third party endorser" party, where a well-liked Hollywood figure would host a reception honoring a close friend whose movie just happened to be in contention for awards. Julia Roberts, for example, hosted a well-timed screening and reception for Biutiful on behalf of her buddy Javier Bardem -- who later landed an Oscar nomination for best actor. 

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It is not yet clear how strict the new regulations will be. The Academy already outlaws certain gifts, as well as lavish events specifically hosted for voters. But bash-throwers have long skirted the party rules by inviting journalists and other industry insiders to events, and by associating the soirees with guilds or other third parties. The goal this year, says a source close to the discussions, is to limit the number and kind of functions thrown in connection with a specific film (not including screenings), to lessen the impression that voters are being constantly lobbied.

"The complaints from members were up this year," says a source in the Academy. "It was looking like vote-buying, and nobody wants that."

An Academy spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the plan. "Each year the Academy goes through a process of reviewing regulations to see what, if any, changes should be made," the rep tells THR. "Until that process is complete, we will not comment further."  

Regardless, the Academy is likely to impose the most significant change of its campaigning rules since 2003, when the rules were altered from "guidelines" to the gruffer "regulations," with the threat of actually expelling offenders from the organization. Back in 1996, direct-mail advertising to members was banned as a result of over-the-top materials clogging the mailboxes of voters during the 1995-96 campaign.

Already, top awards consultants are buzzing about possible new changes. Any restriction on what's allowed could alter the campaigns—not to mention the entertainment event-planning economy in Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, New York.

The question is whether any rule can be devised that can't be outwitted when the stakes are high. And Academy sources stress that the goal is not to eradicate awards season parties entirely.  "After all," says a source, "we don't want to be perceived as disciplinarians. This is show business."